I’ve had a crush on Smith Harrington since we were in college together. I knew he didn’t see me as anything more than his friend—just one of the guys—but that didn’t stop me from weaving sexy fantasies about him.
Now, after years of maintaining a long-distance friendship, Smith’s moving to Burton to be my partner at the veterinary clinic—and he’s living upstairs at my new house. After all this time, I should be able to handle working and living with him without getting hot and bothered.
Or maybe not.
I’ve wanted Maureen Evans since the first day I saw her, but she never seemed interested in taking things to the next level. Eventually, I figured we were destined to stay in the friend zone. And although we’ve lived hundreds of miles apart for years, to me, she’s still the one who got away.
When Maureen asks me to be her partner at the veterinary clinic, I jump at the chance. Maybe all hope is not lost. Maybe with a little effort on my part, we can finally have our shot at love. So even as Maureen tries to maintain our just-friends bond, I push those boundaries . . . until flirting crosses the line into something more.
When friendship is no longer enough, there’s always love.
Read the first chapter now!
“Have no fear, reinforcements are here!”
I heard Meghan’s voice before her red head poked around the corner of my bedroom door. She grinned at me and held up the pile of flattened packing boxes she’d brought. “As promised. And I’ve got some wrapping paper and tape in the car. I’ll go grab them.”
“Why don’t you hold on for the moment? We’ve got enough to get started, and we’re tight on space.” I gazed around my room, sighing. Who would think that thirty years of living in the same house, with a brief hiatus during college, would let me accumulate this much crap? And yet here we were, knee-deep in boxes, knick-knacks, books, and clothes.
“Okay, where should I start?” Meghan stood with her hands on her hips, surveying the scene. “This is your show. I’m just a hired hand.”
“Yeah, well, don’t expect anything in the way of recompense, toots. This is strictly a charity gig. I’m poor now, you know.”
“Don’t worry. The only expectations I have are paper cuts and maybe a pizza and a couple of beers.”
“That I can handle. Why don’t you start with the books? There’re a few sturdy boxes from the liquor store in the corner.”
“On it.” She retrieved one of the boxes and began pulling books from the tall shelves that lined my walls, stacking them carefully. “I passed your mom on my way in. She seemed a little, ah, preoccupied. Everything okay?”
I blew my bangs out of my eyes. “Yeah. She’s picking up the pizza.” I concentrated on wrapping a small crystal box. “She claims it’s not true, but I think on some level, she’d started to think I was going to live here with her forever. You know, the widow Evans and her spinster daughter.”
“Shut up. You’re not a spinster.”
I nodded. “Oh, you’re right. I forgot about the husband and kids I have. Crap, where did I leave them now?”
Meghan rolled her eyes. “I just mean, you’re hardly old and dried up. Lots of women stay single later nowadays. You’re a modern career gal.”
Snorting, I reached for another pile of paper. “Sure I am. Or I’m the oldest single woman in Burton under fifty.” I watched my friend try to work out what I’d said. “No, it’s true. I figured it out the other day. Miss Charity, who works at the bank, is in her mid-fifties, near as I can figure. I don’t think there’s another unmarried woman in town my age or older until you get to her.”
“Maybe if you dated a little more instead of spending your Friday nights thinking about that stuff, it’d be a moot point.” She taped up the first box of books and moved on to another one.
“Uh-huh. That reminds me, I need to send a change-of-address notice to the men knocking down my door, begging to take me out.” I lifted my own finished box and carried it to the hallway. We were getting a nice little collection out here. Pretty soon, I could build a tunnel.
“I’m not going to argue and point out that if you wanted to go out on dates, you could.”
“Yeah, with who? You took the last decent available man in town.” I thought about Sam Reynolds, who’d been more like a brother to me than anything else, and I gave a little shudder. “Not that I was interested in Sam that way. Ever. I’m glad he ended up with you.”
Meghan smiled. “Me, too. But while I’ll admit I happen to think my husband is the sexiest, most incredible man in town, I find it hard to believe he’s the last one.”
“Okay, maybe Rilla’s the one to blame. She snapped up Mason from under our very noses.”
“Were you interested in Mason?” Meghan’s voice was equal parts surprise and amusement.
“Not one bit. I mean, the man is seriously hot. He’s built for sin, he’s a huge flirt, and he’s sweet as sugar to boot. But other than that, not my type.” I flipped up the top flaps of a half-packed box.
“So exactly what is it you’re looking for, if it’s not someone like Sam or Mason?” She started on a new shelf of books.
“Ah, I didn’t say I wasn’t looking for someone like Sam or Mason. But there are definite aspects of those men I’d love to have in my OAO.”
“OAO?” Meghan’s forehead wrinkled.
“One and only.” I winked at her and then tilted my head, thinking. “I guess I’m looking for someone . . . easy. Someone who I can hang out with, who knows me and likes me for who I am. Someone I don’t have to pretend with.” Smiling, I stood up and stretched my back. “Physically, I’m not that picky. A little taller than me, in good shape but not too built, you know? I don’t want to be intimidated by how much he works out. A regular guy.”
“There’ve got to be tons of regular guys around Burton. Maybe you’re just not looking in the right places.”
“Oh, yeah? And just where do you think this battalion of regular guys hangs out, pray tell? At Mason’s? At church? Out at the farm stand?”
Meghan threw up her hands. “I don’t know, Reenie. But you have to put yourself out there to meet people. Your—what did you call him? Your one and only isn’t going to just walk up to your front door and ring the bell.”
“Maybe he’ll bring in his dog to the clinic. We’ll lock eyes over his only-a-little-bit sick pet, and he’ll say . . . ‘Hello, Dr. Evans. I’m just a regular guy, and I’ve been looking for a girl just like you.’”
“You’ve been reading too many romance novels.” She lifted a stack of paperbacks. “Exhibit A.”
“Yeah, whatever. Why shouldn’t my life be like one of those books? I deserve a beautiful happily-ever-after.”
“Of course you do. I’m just saying you might have to do a little something to make it happen.” Meghan lifted up the box and carried it out of the room. “So is your mom really upset about you moving out?”
“No. I don’t think so.” I stopped moving for a moment. “I mean, I think she’s a little sad. I’m the last chick to leave the nest. Iona’s been gone since she left for college and Flynn . . .” I rolled my eyes. “He left with all the big drama, of course.”
“And came back in the same way.” Meghan dropped onto the floor and began to put together one of the flattened boxes. “But it all worked out.”
“Yup.” My baby brother had left our small town the day after his high school graduation, full of ambition, determination and with a badly broken heart, since his long-time girlfriend Ali Reynolds had changed her mind at the last minute about going with him. He’d only returned about a year and a half ago when our father had died suddenly. He’d been as surprised as the rest of us to learn that Ali’s daughter Bridget was actually his child.
As Meghan had said, everything had worked out. Ali and Flynn had gotten married about a year ago, and now they divided their time between New York City and Burton, where they’d built a small house on the Reynolds’ family farm.
“Still, I don’t think it bothered Mom so much because I was here. Or Dad was. And when I told her my idea about buying the old Walker house, she was as excited as I was.” I wrapped another piece of crystal. “But over the last few weeks, she’s been pretty moody. Maybe it just hit her that I’m really leaving.” The thought of my mom rambling around this big house, lonely and sad, hurt my heart.
Meghan stepped around boxes and piles of stuff to sit on the bed next to me. “Maureen, this is a good thing. It’s a move forward. You’re buying your own home, and now you own the clinic, too. Your mom knows that, even if it’s going to be an adjustment at first.”
“I know.” I sniffled a little and dug in the pocket of my jeans for a tissue. “I guess change is always hard.”
“Helloooooo!” A familiar voice floated up the steps, and I smiled.
“Up here!” Meghan answered, and we heard the unmistakable sound of footsteps running lightly up the stairs. A few seconds later, my sister-in-law’s head peeked around the corner.
“What’s this? I thought we were working. Packing and shit.”
“Ali!” Meghan popped up and clambered over everything blocking her way to the door. “When did you get into town?”
“Just now, basically. We pulled into the farm, and Sam told me where you were. I left Bridge and Flynn to unpack and settle in. I figured y’all could use some help.” She surveyed the room. “Seems I was right. Shit, Reen, how the hell did you accumulate all this stuff?”
I shrugged. “I have no idea. And I swear I didn’t have this much crap until I started packing it. Maybe it multiplied.”
“That sounds possible. Point me in the direction of boxes, and tell me what to do.”
I pointed to the shelves. “How about helping Meghan finish up the books? That seems like the biggest priority.”
“On it.” She grabbed a box and began pulling books from a shelf Meghan had begun. “Okay, bitches, tell me all the news. Email and texting are great, but I feel like I never get the real scoop until we talk.”
“First of all, can we discuss how you talk when you come back from being up north? Since when do you call your friends ‘bitches’?”
Ali laughed. “Sorry. I need to stop talking Yankee when I hit the Mason-Dixon, huh? But stop trying to divert me, Reenie. I need to know what’s going on with you and one Mr. Smith Harrington.”
My face grew warm, and I dropped the marker I was using. “Nothing. What do you mean?” I bent over to retrieve the pen.
“I mean, when we left for New York after Christmas, you were living here, working at the clinic, clinging to the status quo. Then about a month ago, I hear from your mom that you’re taking over Dr. Yancey’s practice, buying a house, and the guy who made your heart go pitty-pat all through college is moving down here. Moving in with you.” She dropped two books into the box and threw up her hands. “What the fu—uhh, I mean, heck? Tell me what happened.”
I reached for a pile of notebooks and slid them into the box I was packing. “First of all, Mom’s not here, so you don’t have to worry about her yelling at you for your language. Second, Smith isn’t moving in with me. He’s going to rent the upstairs part of my house. Mrs. Walker converted it to a duplex a few years back.”
“But how did Smith end up being your renter? I didn’t even know you were still in touch with him.”
I’d forgotten that Ali would probably remember Smith—and that she was one of a very select group of people who’d known about the huge crush I’d had on him. She and I had still been friends early in my college years; our estrangement hadn’t happened until the summer before my junior year. Crap.
“Yeah, we did. Keep in touch, I mean. Nothing big, just emails, social media, that kind of thing.” I worked hard to keep my voice casual. No way did I want Ali making a huge deal out of this. “He was looking around for a new practice, and I knew I didn’t want to try to run Dr. Yancey’s on my own. I’ve got some good ideas for expanding it, but I can’t do that without a partner. So it worked out well.”
“Mmmmmhmmmmm.” Ali finished her box and began taping it. “And is Mr. Smith Harrington married?”
I didn’t look up. “Um, no.”
“And is he currently involved in a relationship?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“And are you planning to jump his bones?”
“I don’t—God, Ali. Seriously? Are you fifteen?”
“Nope. Just morbidly curious.”
“Well, stop. That whole thing with Smith—that was a long time ago. And keep your mouth shut when he gets here because he never knew about any of that craziness. Thank God. I’d have been mortified.”
“Okay, I feel like I just walked into the second act of a play. What’re you talking about?” Meghan looked from our mutual sister-in-law to me. “I thought Smith was just an acquaintance from college. Did you guys date?”
“No.” I filled that one word with as much emphasis as possible. “We did not. We were very good friends. We still are. And that’s all we’ll ever be.”
Ali nodded, her face poker straight. “That’s right. They were very good friends. Smith was the very good friend Reenie wanted to screw silly.”
I groaned and dropped my head into my hands. “Ali. You’re making me regret telling you all my deep-darks way back when.”
“Too late. And tell me it’s not serendipity, him deciding to move down here. You’ll be in the same town, in the same house, working together . . . sounds like the perfect set-up to me. Time to make some of those sexual fantasies come true.”
“When did you get such a dirty mind?” I stood up and crossed my arms over my chest.
“Blame your brother. We’ve been making up for lost time, and he’s very creative. Just the other night, we—”
I clapped my hands over my ears. “La, la, la, la—I don’t need to hear the disgusting details of your sex life with my little brother.”
Meghan came over to sit next to me again. “Don’t worry, Reen. If she gets out of hand, I’ll just make sure I talk about what her brother and I did last weekend down at the lake.”
Ali made a face and held up one hand. “Okay, okay. You win.” She shook her head. “When did it happen that my sisters-in-law ganged up on me like this?”
“That’s what happens when you spend six months out of the year in the big city, little sister.” I picked my way across the room and folded her into a tight hug. “But we love you anyway. Thanks for coming over to help, even if you are a pain in the ass.”
“Maureen Ann, language!” The front door slammed shut, and my mother’s words sailed up the steps.
I rolled my eyes. “Why is it always me she catches? You two could out-swear sailors and she never hears a word.” Raising my voice, I leaned out into the hallway. “Sorry, Mom.”
She appeared at the top of the stairs, lifting her curling black hair off her neck. “It’s hotter than hades out there. Ali, come here and give me a hug. Look at you, you’re more beautiful than ever.” Mom wrapped Ali in her arms then leaned back, studying her daughter-in-law. I saw my mother’s eyes narrow a little, but she didn’t say anything before she released her. “How’re you girls coming up here? Almost done?”
“Oh, uh, we’re getting close.” I glanced behind me at the partially-packed boxes and piles of assorted stuff.
“Hmm.” Mom raised one eyebrow. “Well, pizza’s waiting for you downstairs. Let’s go eat while it’s hot.” She turned and headed down the steps.
I slung an arm around Ali. “You know what the best part is of you and Flynn and Bridge being back in Burton? It means Mom has three other people to worry about and pester.”
Ali sighed and shook her head. “Oh, joy.”
I laughed. “Welcome home, little sister.”